UK Politics

Conservative leadership: MPs await results of fourth vote

The four remaining leadership contestants Image copyright AFP

Tory MPs have voted in the latest stage of their leadership race, with the man who comes last set to be eliminated.

The remaining field of four candidates will be whittled down to three in a secret ballot. The result are expected at about 13:00 BST.

There will then be a further vote to select the final two, one of whom will be elected leader by party members.

Boris Johnson topped Wednesday's third ballot with 143 votes, ahead of Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart was knocked out of the contest on Wednesday evening, after he secured the backing of just 27 Tory MPs.

Mr Johnson is almost certain to make the run-off of 160,000 or so Conservative members who will elect the next Tory leader - and prime minister - in a postal ballot, starting next week.

His campaign to be prime minister received an endorsement from Evening Standard editor and former Chancellor George Osborne.

An editorial for the paper argued Mr Johnson had "the best shot" at uniting the government, getting the country out of "the Brexit mess" and help Britain feel "good about itself again".

Mr Johnson told the paper: "It is time we had some excitement back into politics" but added that "there's also quite a serious job of work to be done".

But the race to join the former foreign secretary in the final two remains too close to call.

Mr Hunt, the foreign secretary, led Mr Gove by just three votes in the third round of voting, with 54 and 51 supporters respectively.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid was in fourth place with 38 votes.

He has insisted he will not pull out of the race and it is all to play for. His camp is hoping to attract backers of Mr Stewart.

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Media captionHow Rory Stewart was knocked out of contest in the third round

Mr Javid's campaign manager, Tory MP Robert Halfon, said the home secretary was "the outsider" but that he had support from across the party and was also picking up votes from former supporters of other candidates.

Mr Stewart said he "will not be declaring for anyone" on Thursday, but will be voting later.

The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there were all kinds of possibilities regarding potential alliances and pacts between the candidates chasing Mr Johnson.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd - who backs Mr Hunt - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she was not "resigned" to Mr Johnson becoming prime minister.

"We haven't seen much of Boris," she said, adding that there were 16 hustings coming up over three weeks, with plenty of opportunities for members to decide who would be the best prime minister and "not just a good campaigner".

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is now backing Mr Johnson after initially supporting eliminated candidate Dominic Raab, told Today Mr Johnson would be a "very good prime minister".

He said he was lending his support as Mr Johnson had assured him the UK would leave the EU on 31 October under his premiership.

Mr Davis also defended Mr Johnson's championing as London mayor of the Garden Bridge project, which eventually collapsed despite £43m of public investment, saying it was a "single mistake".

Battle is 'fluid and real'

After nine days and three rounds, it's almost decision time.

Tory MPs will vote, and vote again - perhaps up to late on Thursday night - until there are only two men left.

Barring some bizarre implosion, one of them is certain to be Boris Johnson - the politician who despite the wilful rollercoaster, has come determinedly back from the political brink.

For many months he was down, but evidently, never truly out. The contest to take him on is fluid and real.

Read more from Laura

'Twists and turns'

The leadership campaign has, so far, been dominated by Brexit - with the candidates criticising each others' plans for getting the UK out of the EU by the 31 October deadline.

Mr Hunt told LBC he believed the EU was prepared to re-open the agreement they reached with Theresa May - rejected three times by MPs - if they found themselves dealing with the "kind of person they could do business with".

Mr Hunt said the current withdrawal agreement containing the controversial backstop - an insurance policy to maintain an open Irish border - was "dead", and could not get through Parliament.

But he said he was confident the EU would listen to the UK if it came up with technological alternatives to the backstop, which they knew commanded the support of MPs.

"If you give them the kind of prime minister they think they can do business with, who is going to be fair and tough, then my reading of this is they do want to solve this," he said.

The view from the EU

It is "unavoidable" that Brexit in any form will "diminish" the UK, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said there was "no point" in having another extension to the Brexit deadline, currently 31 October, if "traditional talks" were staying the same.

There will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, but the UK and the EU could "look together at the political declaration", he said.

And changes could be made to this if the UK tells the EU how it wants to deal with the Irish border.

"I hate no-deal Brexit from every angle," Mr Rutte said, adding that it would have a "huge impact" on the UK.

He also said no to a transition period without a withdrawal agreement, saying: "Hard Brexit is hard Brexit, I don't see how you can sweeten it."

Mr Gove told LBC there were always "twists and turns" in a leadership race, but he was "hopeful" of making it to the final two, given his breadth of support amongst Tory MPs.

While he had not spoken to Mr Stewart since his elimination, he said "having his support would be brilliant".

Although Mr Johnson had "formidable qualities", Mr Gove said he felt he would be a better prime minister than his former cabinet colleague and fellow Brexiteer.

"Boris Johnson has communication skills a plenty but when it comes to a forensic examination of Jeremy Corbyn's programme, and a demolition of him in the House of Commons, I believe I would be better equipped than any of the other candidates."

Compare the candidates' policies

Select a topic...

...and a candidate

Brexit

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to leave with a deal, but says he would back a no-deal Brexit with "a heavy heart" if necessary. - Will create a new negotiating team to produce an "alternative exit deal" to Theresa May’s plan, and engage with EU leaders over August. - Will present a provisional no-deal Brexit budget in early September and decide by the end of the month if there is a "realistic chance" of a new deal. - If not, will abandon talks and focus on no deal preparations. - Pledges to cover the cost of tariffs imposed on the exports of the farming and fishing industries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Vows to leave the EU by the 31 October deadline "come what may", but claims the chance of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one". - Wants to negotiate a new deal, which will include replacing the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. - Will not hand over the £39bn divorce settlement with the EU until the UK gets a new deal. - If a new deal is not agreed, will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal. - Argues a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could be used for the UK to avoid tariffs for the next 10 years, but admits it would need EU sign off. - Promises to support the rural community in a no-deal Brexit scenario with "price support" and "efficiency payments".

Immigration

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. - Wants to review policy of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. - Pledges to scrap the target to reduce net migration to below 100,000.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants a new Australian-style points-based system, considering factors such as whether an immigrant has a firm job offer and their ability to speak English. - Will get Migration Advisory Committee to examine the plan. - Wants to block the ability for immigrants to claim benefits immediately after the arrive in the UK. - Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 a year.

Tax

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into "the next Silicon Valley... a hub of innovation". - Wants to cut corporation tax to 12.5%. - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year. - Pledges to scrap business rates for 90% of high street shops. - Will increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1m to £5m.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges to raise the tax threshold for the higher rate to £80,000 (rather than the current £50,000). - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying income tax. - Will review “unhealthy food taxes” such as sugar tax on soft drinks.

Spending

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to increase defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. - Promises to keep free TV licenses for the over-75s. - Wants to build 1.5 million homes and create a “right to own” scheme for young people. - Backs both HS2 and a third runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges more money for public sector workers and wants to increase the National Living Wage. - Will “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022. - Promises to maintain spending 0.7% of GDP on Foreign Aid. - Wants to review the HS2 train project. - Pledges full fibre broadband in every home by 2025.

Health and social care

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Promises more funding for social care. - Wants to introduce an opt out insurance system to fund future care, similar to the way pensions work. - Wants to target manufacturers of unhealthy foods to make them cut the sugar content. - Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Rules out a pay-for-access NHS, saying it would remain "free to everybody at the point of use" under his leadership. - Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. - Plans to give public sector workers a "fair" pay rise, according to supporter Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party "national consensus".

Education

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Pledges to write off tuition fees for young entrepreneurs who start a new business and employ more than 10 people for five years. - Wants to reduce interest rates on student debt repayments. - Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession. - Wants to abolish illiteracy.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, with a minimum of £5,000 for each student in the latter. - Wants to look at lowering the interest rate on student debts.